Second Language Records presents Mag - Amplitude by sonic experimentalists Constant Light. The Australian duo of Sasha Margolis and James Dean present a follow up to their well received Observations/1. If you can imagine taking Krautrock cranked through the grinder of the early 80’s Manchester scene, then brighten it up with some contemporary synth pop/dream pop (ala Stereolab), add a pinch of noise and you might begin to approximate the Constant Light sound.
The opening track on Mag - Amplitude “I/O” starts with a strong bass line that layers with repetitive synth pulses and warm keys that drone on for nearly the entirety of this 10 minute track. There’s something oddly familiar with this jam. Strangely this track reminds me of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” if you bumped up the speed and tempo and made it cheerier and uplifting rather than somber. “Factory Floor” follows in the opening track’s synthy goodness, offering another 10 minutes of drum machine beats and shifting futuristic keyboards colliding with fuzzed out guitar. The penultimate track “Ice Glass” is a 2 minute jam of what sounds like an electronic harpsichord.
The first three tracks are only, but a prelude to the epic 3 part opus “Dreams of Dreams Denied I-III.” After listening to the first 3 synth heavy tracks, I was taken back a bit by the near acoustic jam on part I. Electro acoustic guitar, harmonica, sorta vocals, live drums, all shrouded in an airy atmosphere carry through to part II. Part II is a 5 minute shoe-gazey fuzz pop jam and then we come full circle to more familiar territory with part III. Part III closes things out on happier tidings with an ambient synth jam. I can almost imagine the duo jamming out to this track with perma grin in some smoky little club, just transfixed by the tunes they’re filling the atmosphere with.
I have to admit while I wasn’t initially enamored by Mag - Amplitude, they won me over by disc’s end. It’s a nice mixture of familiar sounds, that’s surprisingly refreshing. Another fine showing by this Australian duo that got me hook, line, and sinker.
- Hal Harmon
Melbourne's Constant Light make a globe-trotting sound that takes in influences from Krautrock (particularly the Neu! beat), Factory Records, OMD and even a bit of noise in there. Buzzing along tightly, the opener 'I/O encapsulates all of the above, with a deep throbbing bassline, motoric beat, melodic keyboards and then slowly building walls of noise.
It's like they have these three sides to them: melody, rhythm and noise. Each of the songs on here encapsulates these elements (if you count tracks 4 - 6 as one track, they do share a name). Factory Floor chugs along on the root beat with sweeping atmospheric keyboards and after about five minutes fuzzing guitars begin to roar along with it, finally almost engulfing it around the ten minute mark.
'Ice On Glass' is the shortest track, just a couple of minutes of elegant synths. The epic closing trilogy of 'Dreams of Dreams Denied I-III' opens with beautiful guitar riffs and a sad, purring backdrop. It dissolves in a deep sea of sub-aquatic noise then gives way to a classic Neu! beat and dies out in a wave of synths and throbbing, pulsing deep sounds.
Mag - Amplitude pulses with life all the way through, like a window seat on an excellent journey.
Was Ist Das?
The whole instrumental/'noise' sub-section often gets caught up in its own self-reflection. What is likeable about this Melbourne duo is while building beautifully layered music they leave enough stillness and space for you to lose yourself in it as it unfolds. They also have a sense of melody many other lack and in their collection of vintage synths and machines that go 'ping', their noise has nods to to things like '80s electro marvels Orchestral Manoeuvres and such. Worth investigation from many angles.
...The music they play is largely based on cosmos - not in the new age sense of the word, but in the cosmic sense of the word. Lots of arpeggio's from their keyboards, bouncing, jumping around, small melodies and that always ticking rhythm - the motor of krautrock. But Constant Light is a bit more than just another cosmic band. On 'Mag-Amplititude' we find also traces of electro-pop - even when it all stays instrumental - and very occasionally a bit of noise. Those are however small excursions, as the main road leads them to the sky, to the cosmos, and to the sequencer driven motoriks. Think Neu meets Cluster. ... Very nice.
Living in the UK during the tail end of the nineties, I was a regular attendee of a night called Kosmiche, or as my friends referred to it; the Krautrock Club. Held in a dingy backroom of The Garage in Islington, it was a curious mix of motorik über-rhythms, gothic undercurrents and banging techno for the end of the night when everybody was lagered up. This curious insight into my misspent twenties serves a purpose, mind – the debut album from Melbourne’s Constant Light would be on high rotation at the Krautrock Club, providing the essential ingredients that a Saturday night indie-tinged bacchanalia demands. A percentage of those ingredients spell out ROLAND, with a coruscating Juno-60 synth and 606 Drum Machine providing the rhythmic backbone for the majority of the tracks. Arpeggios rise and fall, synths pulse, psychedelic guitars melt yr brain and melodica soothes the whole lot down before another shot to the moon. What more could you want from a Saturday night?
For fans of Spacemen 3 / Spectrum, Suicide, Neu!, Harmonia, Stereolab, et al., Constant Light repositions the international metronomic underground to a southerly latitude. Has Conny’s studio moved to Collingwood? Quite possibly, given the temper and intent of the sounds contained within Mag-Amplitude. Three-part odyssey ‘Dreams of Dreams Denied’ balances Spaghetti Western beginnings with a motorik, ‘driving-down-the-freeway-with-the-roof-open’ middle section and a delicious slide into the Klaus Schulze-like glacial synths and bass pulses of the third movement. Opener ‘I/O’ drones to infinity with lashings of ecstatic bliss and rapturous distortion, whilst ‘Factory Floor’ fits right into the now sound of the eternal eighties revival. I can almost imagine the pre-Summer of Love dance floor of Manchester’s Hacienda nightclub heaving to this one, or bringing it into the contemporary milieu, being mixed into a podcast for the Blackest Ever Black label.
On Mag-Amplitude the duo of Sasha Margolis and James Dean channel their experimental, popular and hypnotic qualities showcased on Observations 1 into a potent blend of rhythmic imperatives. With roots firmly planted in the music of the freewheeling Germanic 1970s, the forlorn, rainy 80s and 90s indie-psychedelia, Constant Light take it to the other side and return, without an OD catastrophe in sight, which is pretty good going for a Saturday night. Plug into their endless pulse and drive, just drive!
There’s something hermetically sealed about Constant Light, the Melbourne duo of James Dean and Sasha Margolis. Their instrumental forays into experimental pop, drone, and ambient are meticulous and often austere, not seeming to show much interest in the world outside their arcane gear and influences. Sharing tracks via Bandcamp since the start of 2010, the duo has charted a path from minimalism and Steve Reich worship to sleek kosmische grooves and more tangible guitar-pop. Following a swath of free downloads and a sold-out 3” CD-R came the collection Observations/1, which closed with a cover of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ featuring a rare vocal turn from the band.
Constant Light considers Mag – Amplitude its debut album, and while it’s not a huge departure from Observations/1, it is more unified. That’s because nearly half the album’s running time is consumed by the three-part composition ‘Dreams of Dreams Denied’. Like the tracks preceding it, that creation is quietly chameleonic, shifting subtly enough that we often only notice the change in scenery once it’s behind us. That combination of hypnotic layering and intuitive variation first surfaces on ‘I/O’, which stacks an urgent pulse, looming distortion, and a warm synth sheen until they all seem to be humming in unison. It’s strangely melodic, the more prominent moments of organ and guitar recalling the drone side of Yo La Tengo.
There’s a nice mingling of mechanical coldness and human warmth, and there’s no mistaking the industrial connotations of the following ‘Factory Floor’. It’s spooky, with a ticking drum machine and looped synth melody leading to prolonged guitar fuzz and other tense touches. After about eight minutes, certain elements take flight while a jittery network continues to work diligently beneath. The two-minute ‘Ice on Glass’ then feels like an old synth score, a bit like the stuff John Carpenter dreamed up in his prime. It grows steadily more cosmic, only to fade out before evolving further.
‘Dreams of Dreams Denied I’ is something else altogether, birthing acoustic guitar from static in a way that nods to Flying Saucer Attack. From there it’s hushed, dreamy atmosphere until things get more dynamic as the second part kicks in. Andre Fazio (YIS) guests on live drums as the track re-imagines instrumental pop as an endless groove. Its third and final transformation incites more ambience and layering, finishing a quest through all of Constant Light’s sweet spots.
There’s a circular nature to what the duo does, with specific themes departing and inevitably recurring. Dean and Margolis are impressive structural architects, seeming to build their compositions inwards and outwards at the same time. The more and more intricate something gets, the more space it’s given to blossom and expand.
by Doug Wallen
Mess & Noise